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Rambling Around Lucan

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by Michael O’Reilly

The following is from an article written over thirty years ago, describing an area of Lucan in bygone days.

For the first 26 years of my life I lived around the Lucan Area. From my birth in September 1938 until 1940 I lived in St Philomena’s Gate Lodge, Newcastle Road, just across the road from Finnstown House. Between 1940 and 1947, I lived in the gate lodge of Esker Lodge (property of the Kennedy family). We lived at the main entrance which was on the left (coming from Esker Cottages) about 150 yards from the bridge over the river Griffeen, with St Finians Church in view about 400 yards North. Thence for a few months we resided in a thatched house at Stacumney, Hazelhatch. Between 1947 and 1950 we resided in another thatched house at Finnstown, Lucan, opposite Somerton where Misses Vitch and O’Callaghan farmed at the time. Finally from 1950 until 1964 I lived in old Dodsborough from whence I moved to Dunboyne when I got married. I went to National School in Lucan between 1944 and 1952 and the Technical School between 1952 and 1954. My first year at ‘Tech’ was at its old location beside ‘Fullfills’ garage at Tandy’s Lane.

Wartime Esker
During the 1940’s and 50’s Esker was a very rural area and a relatively lonely place. As a small boy during the World War 2 ‘Emergency’ period, I vividly remember on dark wintry nights the searchlights from Baldonnel aerodrome criss- crossing one another as the drone of aircraft overhead made a child filled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation ask his Dad “whose aeroplanes are they”? “Not to worry son they are only practising, it is time for your bed.”

At that time St Finian’s Church was covered in a mantle of ivy. The entrance gateway to the churchyard was inset off the roadway: a short grassy avenue leading up to it. As youngsters during the ‘Emergency’ we were fascinated one day as we watched the Army set up camp at the entrance complete with their armoured cars. To my young mind there was a touch of magic when a soldier snapped open a little secret trapdoor on the butt of his rifle and out popped a little brass bottle! It was my first introduction to the 303” Lee-Enfield rifle and its oil bottle and also the Mark VI Ford armoured car: however not surprisingly I did not know their names then. I remember adults at the time saying that the Army were on the lookout for escaped prisoners. In latter years I surmise this could be around July 1942 after the Derby Day escape by interned airmen from the Curragh Camp.

Sights and sounds which bring back very fond and nostalgic memories of growing up around Lucan in the 1940’s and 50’s included the 9 Army Air Corps Seafires in formation in the distance and watching as they banked as one and started approaching where you stood. Flying low overhead their colours changed from blue to green with their vivid tricolours adorning their wings; whilst the crescendo from the Merlin engines reverberated in your ears. It was truly a sight to behold and remember. Around Easter time in the early 1950’s would be the opportune time to see these Seafires as they practiced for the Military Parade in Dublin city.

Canal Barge
Next choice would be a late Summers evening after a hot sunny day, if you were in the general area of the Grand Canal. A tut-tut-tut sound could be heard far off but seemingly coming nearer: it was the birdsong of the single cylinder Bolinder engine of canal barge. It seemed a very homely, friendly, reassuring sound; at least you knew that there were some human beings about, especially if where you were was remote and lonely. Clambering onto the canal bank you waved to the helmsman as the barge passed by. The side rounded bow lay low in the water from its cargo of dark peat bound for Dublin city. The crew were lean weather beaten and bronzed and wise to the ‘ways’ of these inland waters: wayfarers in a class of their own.

Lastly is the sound of an old Threshing Mill in action with its characteristic dun-dun-dun-dun rising and falling repetitive rhythm.

Gollierstown and Its Environs
I spent quiet a lot of my youth with friends and sometimes alone exploring, picnicking, fishing and hunting in this area: from 1947 to the early 1960’s. Even over the past 30 odd years I do not think the area changed much: in short it is a hinterland of Lucan which quite a lot if people are unfamiliar with. I am writing this article to endeavour to try and impart a little pleasure and happiness to other folk who may have a liking for quite rural backwaters and perhaps are not aware such retreats exist nearby.

Towpath Trek
A very enjoyable, pleasant, educational ‘Towpath trek’ from the 12th lock to Hazelhatch Bridge, 3.5 miles, (or just to Gollierstown Bridge if so desired) can be had if the weather is at all fine. A rucksack containing a thermos flask of tea/coffee and sandwiches will sustain one, so as to stay out longer and explore more fully. Obviously all waterways have potential dangers especially for children but the ponds visited on this trek can be extra hazardous so strict supervision should be kept on younger folk.

Now best foot forward! Starting on the right hand side at the 12th lock, we pass by the former Grange Mills and shortly afterwards the 12th Lock Bar (previously called The Foxes Head). A few hundred yards further on you slip around a wooden gate which straddles the towpath: ¾ of a mile ahead you can see Gollierstown Bridge. A short while later the high bush-covered bank on your right drops away and a flat open area of marshy ground unfolds.

However, soon after the bank on your right rises again, as does the bank on the far side of the canal: so as you near Gollierstown Bridge the canal is actually going through a cutting in the terrain. Near the bridge the ruins of an old cottage shows up near the left bank. If you continue under the bridge the landscape opens out unto a vista of grassy hillocks, May bushes and the ponds themselves. If you retrace your steps back from under the bridge and clamber up the steep bank and on to the carriageway of the bridge you will get a good general view of your surroundings. The nicest time to visit Gollierstown is in May and June when the May bushes on the mini ‘drumlins’ are in bloom and the Roach, Rudd and Perch are taking the bait on your fishing rod. From the bridge looking east you can just discern the lock gates at the 12th Lock where you left a while ago. Turning your head left, in the foreground you will see the roofless ruins of old dwelling houses and farm buildings. This is in a sense the hidden away and forgotten village of Gollierstown.

People lived here in the earlier part of this century, it being part of the Finnstown Estate. The Waldron family once owned the Estate, it stretched from the Eagle Lodge, Newcastle Road to Hazelhatch, encompassing over 1,000 acres. The Nash family used to manufacture mineral water over at Finnstown House around the early part of this century. Their Ginger Beer glazed earthenware bottles are much sought after by collectors as they make very pleasing and quaint shelf ornaments.

Snug ‘Dugout’
In your immediate foreground you will observe dense bushes and brambles. Under these brambles (up to the early 1950’s) was once a very well made cosy and snug ‘dugout’ dwelling inhabited by an old World War 1 veteran. It is long since gone as is also the veteran. I saw inside it one day, it was built of stones and sods with the stones formed into an arch to make the roof: the old veteran must have learned his sapping skills in the trenches of the Western Front, as it was a work of art. Switching your head to the right there is a pleasant view of the Dublin/Wicklow Mountains with Peamount Hospital in the middle ground. Turning around we are again looking west with the canal continuing on a rigid straight course as far as the eye can see, while laid out below are the ponds and grassy hillocks.

Coming down off the bridge we now continue along the towpath heading west, after which is the far side of the canal. We soon pass the old lime kiln also on that side. The bank on our right soon rises again, it being sprinkled with hawthorn and furze bushes. If we now climb up onto this bank and look north, we are now looking out over very remote but pleasant farmland.

Between here and Tubber Lane there are few if any habitants as there are no roads. Only the railway line bisects the flattish landscape. An old map of 1816 names this townland as Coolsescuddawn. It was over near Stacumney railway bridge that the East Meath Old I.R.A. set up an ambush on a train carrying British troops on the 21st July 1921. However the ambush was not a success as the authorities had become aware of roadblocks which volunteers has set up to seal off the area: so the military were forewarned. Continuing on, another old ruined house comes into view on the far bank of the canal.

I was told as a child that an R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) constable lived there in years gone by.

The Hulk
There is an old ex R.I.C. barracks in Lyons Estate (ex Lord Cloncurry’s) near the canal. I often wondered was he stationed there? By now the bank on our right drops and the canal takes a turn slightly to the left: ahead on our side, the tall gaunt lonely ruins known as the ‘Hulk’ comes into view. The Hulk is the remains of an old canal hotel where the passengers from the Flyboats could stay the night and the horses were rested or changed. This edifice should be a good subject for the artist or photographer. I often stood on my own, gazing inside the ruins and thought to myself that if those old ragged stone walls could only talk they could tell many a tale about the folk who sat, talked and perhaps sang within them o’er 150 years ago.

In winter when the evenings are closing in with a sullen sky, the ‘Hulk’ can look very desolate and foreboding, especially when the winds wail like a Banshee through the reeds on the towpath. It can be full of atmosphere and maybe even a ghostly spectre or two: though the latter I personally did not witness – as yet anyway. Leaving the ‘Hulk’ behind us we continue on the last leg of our trek as Hazelhatch Bridge comes into view. About ¼ of a mile from the bridge there is a lane running from the towpath to the narrow country road approximately 200 yards distance.

The dwelling house of a small holding faces the canal at the junction of the lane with the towpath. When we reach Hazelhatch Bridge we encounter McEvoy’s Pub on our right and can see Lee’s Pub diagonally over on our left. On the Newcastle side of the bridge, a variety of pleasure boats are normally berthed around the bridge area, especially in the Summer.

We have now reached the outward end of our trek and another 3.5 miles return trek awaits us to get back to the 12th Lock. Tea and sandwiches should be eagerly sought after by this stage if not already consumed earlier at Gollierstown. Some folk might like soft drinks or ‘otherwise’ drinks at the two afore mentioned excellent hostelries but try and get back before it becomes dark as the ghostly old ‘Hulk’ has still to be passed again.

Before I conclude, I am just mentioning that there is also a pond known as ‘Foxes Quarry’ hidden away behind bushes up a lane not far from the G.A.A. Club. It used to be fished for Roach and Perch but it could be somewhat spawned over by now. However it is a potentially hazardous place to fish unless in very responsible company.

Where Spollens are now sited, is the location of the ruins of Adamstown Castle. Alas it is no more. I conclude with a little poem I wrote in 1958.

(Editor’s note: Kilsaran Concrete now stands on the site of Spollens.)


“Memories of Gollierstown”

I love to go a strolling by those moors and ponds so sweet
The emerald green grass under me a carpet for my feet
And looking to the old lime kiln, its ruined walls so bleak
Yet still I hear the workers’ ghosts from inside of it speak
Clambering up a gentle slope I stop and gaze around
The scene that lies before me is dear old Gollierstown
The place I rambled long ago when I was young and gay
But years have passed and I have grown, my hair has turned to grey

I love to go a strolling by those moors and ponds so sweet
The perfumed air of blossomed May a tonic for to meet
And feeling tired but happy now that perfumed air I seek
I rest beneath a blossomed bush of May and fall asleep
I dream of busy Dublin, buildings towering high above the ground
But my body rests this evening in lovely Gollierstown